Lovers Of The Earth

The year 2003 sees the Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence celebrate its 250th anniversary. This prestigious institution still carries out valuable work, addressing issues concerning agriculture and the relationship of human beings to the natural environment—the Greek-origin word ‘georgophili’ meaning ‘lovers of the earth’.

The Accademia was founded in Florence on June 4 1753 at the instigation of Ubaldo Montelatici, a Lateran canon. Its original aim was to perform ‘continued and well regulated experimentation and observation in order to improve and give benefit to farming in Tuscany’. This undertaking to study the Tuscan situation was soon extended to other parts of the country long before the Academy was actually recognized as an official public institution in 1897.

The Academy has been a non-profit organization since 1932 and has always considered developments in agrarian science from a number of different viewpoints —technological, social, economic and environmental. It is always ready to address new challenges and the issues it is currently wrestling with—globalisation, the agriculture-food chain, biotechnology, environmental sustainability and the protection of the rural countryside—are the ones of greatest general concern today. The high status and prestige of the Georgofili, validated by their numerous practical projects, has long been recognised outside Italy.

The Georgofili now consist of 150 full-time academics, 250 correspondents and 100 non-Italian members. It was with great pride and pleasure that I received an invitation to join as a correspondent in 1997. The institution’s human resources carry out studies and research to formulate agricultural activity and policies. The Georgofili provide consultancy at all institutional levels—from the European Union to individual municipalities—and, very nobly, do do so for no charge and without gain. The high number of conferences, meetings and so-called ‘public assemblies’ organized by the Accademia each year to present and discuss its research findings prior to publication gives some idea of how active and important the institution is. The Accademia also possesses a priceless document collection in its library, photo library and archive in Florence, which has been acknowledged and used by a numerous international researchers.

To celebrate its 250th anniversary and commemorate the occasion, the Accademia dei Georgofili is this year publishing Storia dell’Agricoltura Italiana, a major five-volume history of Italian agriculture, from prehistory to the present day to future scenarios. The efforts of the president of the Georgofili Franco Scaramuzzi, the editor of the publication Giovanni Cherubini and the 65 contributors deserve to be warmly commended. They have produced a monumental work of over two thousand pages without precedent in Italian historiography.

What I like most about these five volumes, apart from the invaluable documentary record they provide, is the perspective they adopt. They convey the clear message that over the last fifty years we have created an incredible disaster in a sector which, even if statistics suggest it is no longer one of the mainstays of the economy, still underpins our survival in an intact world. Tracing the history of Italian agriculture in this way highlights the appalling choices that have been made since human ability to use nature for human ends has become a risk for nature itself, and since we decided to apply a productivity-oriented philosophy to farming without according the proper respect for the earth which existed in the distant but also most recent past.

This is why Storia dell’Agricoltura Italiana takes on a political dimension. It is a warning not to undervalue or disregard the importance of our agriculture. The sector needs to be founded on healthy principles and we now have to try to rectify the errors that have had such terrible effects on the environment, biodiversity, workers in the industry and on the quality of our lives and of our food.

First published in La Stampa on 02/02/2003

Translation by Ronie Richards

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